In a Spikes Asia 2019 session titled, 'Advertising, Single Malts and Blackjack', Sonal Dabral, CCO of Ogilvy South and Southeast Asia as well as Ogilvy vice chairman for India, spoke about the three things he enjoys the most in life.
If Jack Ma of Alibaba picked up business philosophy by playing poker, Dabral says, advertising, blackjack and single malts provide him with life’s lessons. "Passions have taught me a few lessons that I use in the advertising profession. And sometimes they helped me kind of deal with life also."
Starting with blackjack, he says, one might think that winning depends on the cards that you are dealt. But luck doesn't affect the game in the long run. “Only knowledge and hard work does," he said. "The other truth is that in both blackjack and in advertising, we have to play with the hands that we are dealt.”
We caught up with Dobral after his session for a video interview:
He quickly adds, “As you all know, advertising is not dealing us a good hand these days. So we complain when we get the cards. When we are like complaining every time, we get frustrated. Then, we look at the guy next door and we say, he's getting better cards than me. When we do that, we have lost the game even before we started. So, take a swig of your single malt. That always helps.”
Like in blackjack, play to win, despite all cards, was his appeal to the audience. “However, we have to know everything about the game. It's not good to just know some of the things. We need complete knowledge of the strategy. You know whether it's on a card, whether we have to hit, whether we have to surrender, whether we have to play, or whether we have to just stay always better, we have to split the cards.”
He said that most of us are very good with most of the cards. “It's the cards that appear infrequently, those are the cards that we get puzzled by. We don't know what to do then. And that's where the casino comes in and takes all our money in those 20% of infrequent occurrences.
“When these infrequent occurrences appear, like say, for example, a failed campaign or a job loss or a business loss, or even a failed relationship, you are not derailed, you know how to deal with that situation, or you don't end up losing the entire stack of chips.
"Almost 52% of the time the casino wins and 48% of the time you win. But when you have the entire knowledge as I was saying, you double down on the cards that favor you. Those might be occurring infrequently. But, because your bets are getting multiplied, you win."
Dabral says that winning advertising could emanate only from a complete understanding of consumer behaviour. Quoting the example of Savlon chalk sticks he said, “This work could not have been possible unless the teams that worked on it had the deepest understanding of rural India, of how people behave in many parts of rural India.”
Advertising lessons from single malts
Isn't it fascinating that every single malt is kind of unique, asked Dabral. While the character is defined by the micro-climate, the soil, the water, even the cask in which the whiskey is stored in, the key is the passion of the master distiller, to define the perfect age of the malt.
The obsession that the master distiller has over the process, the patience, the love and care with which the master distiller tends to these whiskies, to create that liquid gold is what advertising can learn from, he says.
“Just imagine what if for every piece of work that we do, we do it with the passion and craft of this master distiller. What if we give each of our relationships or friendships, the time that they need, the care that they need,” he said.